Dr. Roy Smythe’s transition from the operating room to chief medical officer of health informatics at Royal Philips (NYSE:PHG) wasn’t fueled by physician burnout. Rather, it was sparked by his attempt to transform healthcare from the inside out.
“It’s hard to redesign the airplane while you’re flying it,” he told MassDevice.
At Philips, Smythe works to change the way clinicians deliver care. It’s no easy task, but Smythe thinks that if industry can figure out how to leverage technology and big data to boost physician workflow, all parties involved could reap the benefits.
He pointed out that only about one-third of a physician’s time is spent actually delivering care. The other two-thirds is spent entering data into electronic health records, approving prescriptions and dealing with tasks that many believe could be handled by technology.
“Physicians go to medical school to learn how to be physicians,” Smythe said. “They don’t want to learn how to be clerks or data entry assistants.”
Doctors have, on average, 15 minutes to spend with each patients. Each day is jam-packed with appointments. Technology could help more effectively triage patients to eliminate or shorten appointments for common problems like a sore throat and prioritize patients that really need to see a clinician, according to Smythe.
“In a primary care physician’s practice, they may be forced to see a patient every 15 minutes, but what they would tell you is that there are some patients they should be seeing for 30 seconds and some they should be spending an hour with,” he said. “And in the current model, it’s really difficult to do that. You can do the 30-second visits, but the hour long visits are quite difficult.”
He isn’t advocating for technology to do a physician’s job, but Smythe does believe that technology could enable doctors to care for patients more efficiently – and that’s where his job comes in.
Philips has developed a number of technological solutions designed to help clinicians do their job, including its IntelliSpace Console, which summarizes and displays relevant clinical data collected from medical devices and electronic medical records.
The purpose of this type of technology is to improve the clinician’s decision-making process without overloading them with data.
“Having all of the information at hand, making accurate measurements and always looking at the right image can augment your ability to make a good decision,” he said.
As the medical practice embraces the use of technology, Smythe said he believes that it will not only make a physician’s job more efficient, but it will also greatly benefit the patient.
“I think the future is leveraging technology to improve the humaneness of medicine,” he said. “What if you’ve got a chronic problem that you’re struggling with and you get to see your doctor once every couple of months or you get to see your doctor once every couple of months and you’re able to interact with him electronically in between those visits? The second sounds a lot more humane to me than the first.”
But Smythe is quick to acknowledge that simply collecting data is not enough to change the way doctors do their job.
“There’s an important distinction to be made between providing clinicians with data and providing them actual insights,” he said. “Clinician’s don’t want more data or even necessarily just for you to collate the date for them. They want to know what the insights are.”
Physicians don’t want to be replaced by a machine, but most would embrace tools that render their decisions more impactful. This is where industry should focus, according to Smythe.
“In those places where the decision is difficult, how do I get help there? I don’t want something popping up every time I push a button or pull something up. I don’t want some window popping up telling me something that I already know,” he said.
Although efficiency is a factor of a physician’s workflow that technology could improve, Smythe believes that there is something more to developing these types of systems.
“The goal of healthcare are not productivity, it’s the relief of suffering and extension of meaningful life,” Smythe said. “So, how do we deploy tools to make sure that, if you’re gonna have todeal with something at some point, how far out into the future can we push that? How much meaningful life can we give you before the inevitable occurs?”